Commissioners name education and schools as a priority in 2016-17 budget

Commissioners name education and schools as a priority in 2016-17 budget

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The-Macon-County-News

Macon County Manager Derek Roland outlined his focus for the 2016-17 budget cycle for commissioners by explaining his plan to evaluate county employee salaries and bring them up to speed in comparison to neighboring counties. While commissioners supported Roland’s plan for the coming budget year, each commissioner expressed what they would like to see happen with the budget.

“We have given the directive to the county manager to keep the tax rate the same – no tax increase,” Macon County Commission Chairman Kevin Corbin said. “We will live within our means. We will also conservatively estimate our sales tax even though we anticipate a marked increase in sales tax due to growing economy and the tournaments coming to Parker Meadows.”

Corbin, like Commissioner Ronnie Beale and Jim Tate, informed Roland that he wants to see public education continue to be a priority for commissioners in the coming year. Both Corbin and Tate asked Roland to look at the school system’s capital outlay budget and consider increasing the line item. Last year, the county increased the school system’s capital outlay budget, which is used to fund capital improvement projects, by $100,000. While last year marked the most the county has allocated for the line item in the last five years, capital outlay funds are drastically less than where it was 10 years ago. Corbin, Beale, and Tate want to see the fund returned to those levels.

“We need to be providing our schools some additional capital for building and grounds maintenance, so I would be in support of increasing our outlay to the school system,” said Tate.

“We have to continue working to make sure the children of Macon County have a safe and quality environment to receive an education,” said Beale. “We can work on these and other quality of life issues in Macon County without raising taxes.”

Commissioners Gary Shields and Paul Higdon also stressed the importance of maintaining a flat budget, by providing the same quality services, without increasing the tax rate.

“We have to keep a ‘revenue neutral’ budget, which allows us to work with our colleagues to determine the ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ within our county,” said Shields. “As the newest board member, I rely on my colleagues for historic information and gain understanding by listening and working with leaders within the county.”

“I am very confident that our county manager and all department heads will spend many hours in budget discussions to submit a final draft that is reflective of true needs without excesses,” said Higdon.

One of Higdon’s priorities in the coming year is to look into the economic development needs of the county and develop a way to remain attractive to new businesses utilizing the means already available to local officials.

“I think we need to concentrate more on economic development. Construction, real estate and tourism have been major businesses in Macon County for years and I tried to get some fees reduced in this area last year without any luck,” said Higdon. “If fees and regulations stifle development, I would suggest a one year trial on removing all fees related to permitting construction for one year and monitor the results. This may seem an insignificant starting point but we have to start thinking differently. This program could easily be funded out of our 42 percent fund balance. We have a very talented planning board and maybe we should task them with researching if and how local government could enhance existing small businesses.”

This budget cycle marks the last planning process Corbin will participate in as a commissioner as he moves on to seek a seat in the North Carolina House of Representatives. Heading into his last county budget planning process as commissioner, Corbin is confident in the state Macon County is currently in.

“Macon County is in an enviable spot,” said Corbin. “Our fund balance is very healthy, our taxes are low, and our credit rating is the highest. In addition, our debt was over $60 million when Jim Tate and I came in office six years ago. With the help of our fellow commissioners, that debt is now around $40 million. That is a $20 million reduction in debt in six years and that was adding Parker Meadows and the QZAB money ($3 million) for the schools.”

With months left in the budget process, Tate expressed his confidence in county staff that are working to craft an almost $50 million budget that will continue to move Macon County forward. “Overall, I am extremely pleased with the services that our county offers especially when you consider how low our local taxes are compared to other counties across the state and nation,” said Tate. “I am very excited about the ongoing potential of our new asset at Parker Meadows. It appears that the recreational facility is going to have a banner year, and because of that, there will be increased sales tax revenues for the county and significant occupancy increases for our local hotels and restaurants.”

Brittney Raby – Staff Writer

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